20 Engineering Creativity Tips You Must Know

Creativity is one of the best skills you can have as an engineer. I’m going to go over 20 easy to follow tips to unleash your engineering creativity.

Also, these 20 tips will support the 7 steps I wrote on how to become a creative engineer.

It’s important to realize, memorizing a bunch of theorems and equations isn’t a real skill.

But understanding how to apply concepts in the real world is highly sought after. Because with every engineering design, you’ll need to flex your creativity.

This becomes even more important with complex engineering projects.

What’s more, engineering creativity will be the last skillset to become automated. So yes, masterful creativity skills will insulate you from the automation revolution.

#1 Run with the best idea you come up with

When you’re struggling to come up with the perfect new design, just run with the best idea you come up with. Sure, the idea may not be ideal.

In fact, it may suck. But that’s okay.

Getting the ball rolling with a potential design idea is what’s important. The idea implementation will spark all kinds of new thoughts in your mind.

This allows you to get your hands dirty, while deeply investigating your problem. It beats endlessly brainstorming in your head with no real progression.

I find getting any design on paper helps me discover new issues I hadn’t thought of before. Plus, I gain a firmer grasp over the limitations of the problem.

There’s a reason why we build prototypes. They allow us to do real-world investigative work.

Thus, the most important thing is to just get started.

#2 Question everything around you

matt henry tesla vehicle
Tesla vehicle (Photo Credit: Matt Henry)
  • How do electric cars work?
  • How is power safely transmitted in cables?
  • How do cars drive autonomously?
  • How can electric car batteries recharge so many times with so little degradation?
  • What are the main advantages of electric cars over gasoline cars?

A curious mind exposes you to answers and creative solutions. This in turn gives you more data points to think of solutions of your own.

The more data points you gather on a given type of problem, the more creative you’ll naturally become.

That said, all engineering today heavily relies on thousands of past discoveries.

For example, the company Tesla didn’t invent electric cars. The tech for electric cars has been around for decades.

Tesla simply improved over the tech. Engineers working at Tesla studied the many facets of electric cars.

Thereafter, they learned how to iterate over the existing technology to improve it.

And yes, this is engineering creativity. You’re not always going to design something super unique that no one has seen.

#3 Become an expert in your field of work

The more knowledge you have, the better you can dissect problems to find solutions.

You should become a vacuum and suck up as much data as you can from around you.

Each data point will better help you connect the dots for your creative solutions. I compare data to tools for my creative mind.

The more tools I have, the better I can construct an idea.

On that note, you can be the most creative artist. But if you don’t know the laws of physics, you won’t be able to design a flying vehicle.

#4 Just start even doing something small

You’re not going to become a creative wizard overnight. Everything worthwhile takes time.

Thus, it can take you years to approach your maximum level of engineering creativity.

Of course, some people are born with creative juices oozing out of them.

But for most people, the creative process takes time.

The key is to just start though. Then over time, you’ll gain experience, which will make you a more creative engineer.

It’s a positive feedback loop.

Then before you know it, you’ll be solving all types of difficult problems on your own.

#5 Read biographies of influential people in your field

Go read biographies of great figures in your field. Try to pick apart how they solved difficult problems.

Even more, place yourself in their shoes with their problems staring right back at you.

The goal is to recreate their problem situations in your mind. Then you try to puzzle together how they solved their problems.

I know, when you read a book, the presented solutions will seem in your face obvious.

Everything in hindsight makes you say, “duh!”

But the point is, to pick up on their train of thought. Then apply their thought process to your own problems.

So, don’t only use biographies as inspiration. But also learn the proven creative methods and processes from the people.

#6 Disconnect from social media to free your mind

You need a clear mind for long stretches of time to tap into your engineering creativity.

One huge wall to your creative mind is social media.

Social media constantly pulls you in many different directions. What’s more, it triggers non-productive and volatile emotions in you.

As a result, the processing power of your brain is greatly reduced.

So, protect your window of focus by limiting your usage of social media.

#7 Don’t be afraid of starting from scratch

There’s nothing wrong with starting over.

In fact, you’re doing everyone a huge disservice if you think your first idea is the best idea. Most times, it won’t be, especially when you’re tackling a new problem.

For example, this was an issue for me when I started out as an engineer.

I always ran with my first idea when I tried solving some engineering problems. For the most part, these ideas looked like winners.

After I dug more into them though, I found out parts of the designs had issues.

Now, I didn’t want to scrap my entire design because of a couple little issues. I had spent too much time on these designs to light them on fire.

Because of my stubbornness, I wasted weeks of time trying to force a square peg into a round hole.

Clearly, my design was a bust. I had to start over and brainstorm new ideas.

In short, this is all part of the creative process. You do a design, learn from it, and then improve over it.

Sometimes this means starting from scratch. So don’t get overly attached to any one of your designs.

The trick is to catch these busts before you cause millions of dollars in damage. Or even worse, before someone gets hurt.

#8 Look for new perspectives for designs

As we learned, the more data you have, the greater you can crank up your engineering creativity.

Now, how can you quickly gather more great data? Look for new perspectives on how to solve problems.

The more data you stack in your mind, the better you can fuel your creativity as an engineer.

What’s more, sometimes we get trapped inside our own bubble. Thus, we can’t view problems in a different light.

Not only does this limit your creativity, but you’ll almost never come up with the best design. Because there’s always a better solution.

New perspectives allow you to dissect problems in different ways. In fact, each person can give you a golden nugget of insight that will make you go “ah ha!”

As a result, you may gain the missing piece of the puzzle that’ll inspire you to finally crack your problem.

#9 Copy the concepts of others

spacex falcon heavy landing
SpaceX Falcon Heavy Landing (Photo Credit: SpaceX)

There’s a huge stigma around copying other people’s ideas. But the truth is, ALL engineers stand on the shoulders of past engineers and scientists.

I’m not saying to steal a patent. Rather, iterate over and improve an existing design. This is what all great engineers do.

NO ONE creates something so novel that isn’t influenced by past discoveries.

Even the innovative SpaceX wasn’t the first company to launch and reuse rockets. 25 years ago, NASA successfully launched its prototype DCX.

DCX was a reusable rocket that could land vertically.

What’s more, engineers have perfected rocket design for the past 60 years.

Thus, SpaceX only iterated over existing rocket tech. Of course, they iterated in an amazing way.

They landed their Falcon Boosters on drone-controlled ships in the middle of oceans. And they’ve completed missions of sending humans into space.

The point is, recycle past designs and then iterate over them to meet your project specs. Don’t reinvent the wheel!

#10 Constantly challenge yourself

Never settle! Rather, challenge yourself in the following ways:

  • Constantly look to learn more
  • Aim to implement new ideas over old ideas
  • Take on new work you’ve never done before

Just think about it. If humans quickly became complacent, we’d maybe be cave people today. We would’ve become satisfied after we learned how to create fire with two sticks.

This mentality of endlessly challenging yourself is best seen in Elon Musk. He is constantly pushing the envelope with each of his companies.

He’s not slowing down despite all his accomplishments. Even as the challenges become greater and greater.

Elon has tapped into the secret sauce of using each success as a stepping stone to his next challenge.

I bet if he gets us to Mars in 2040, he’ll still continue pushing the envelope. Even at his advanced age.

In short, each challenge opens up doors to new levels of creativity.

#11 Distance yourself from your kryptonite

Find somewhere quiet without your kryptonite present. We all have kryptonite that distracts us from focusing.

Your kryptonite can be your phone, people, or maybe food. Whatever it is, get it away from you when you need to focus.

You need all your brainpower to tap into your engineering creativity.

That said, maybe your place of focus is under a hot shower with trance music blazing in the background. This environment frees you from your kryptonite.

Different strokes for different folks.

So, find what works best for you to leverage your creative mind.

#12 Build confidence and overcome insecurity

You need to build confidence to go after bold goals that others fear pursuing.

Why? The greatest creative ideas attract the most hecklers. You need the confidence to withstand the negativity and still push forward.

I find when I try to implement creative ideas, I always receive pushback. I’m told, “that’s not how we’ve ever done it. You’re wasting your time!”

You need to be able to shut out the noise and continue marching to your own beat.

On that note, you need to kick out any and all insecurities in your mind. The last thing you need is to cripple your own creativity.

#13 Write down your thoughts and ideas

When an idea strikes you, quickly write it down. More than likely, the idea will escape your mind and may never return.

I’ve had this happen to me one too many times. It’s frustrating!

For this reason, I used to always carry a notepad and a pencil with me. I quickly jotted down any ideas and thoughts that crashed into my mind.

These days, I use the Notes application on my iPhone.

#14 Say “Yes!” more often

It can be frustrating when people are close-minded. It’s either their way or the highway.

This creates an echo chamber, where there’s a loss in perspective for a design.

As we learned, perspective is very important in a creative mind.

A design that lacks perspective will more times than not be far from ideal.

So always leave the door open and listen to others.

Even if what you’re told is bullshit, it’s still another data point at your disposal. You’ll better learn what to do and not to do.

#15 Keep your head in the clouds and daydream more

We all daydream. It’s nothing shameful.

That said, the subjects you read about the most, will shape your daydreaming. So don’t feel daydreaming is unproductive.

Of course, if you daydream all day that’s a problem. But too much of anything is problematic.

Even more, new studies suggest daydreaming may be a signal of your level of smarts.

The study states people with powerful minds have too much brainpower. Thus, they can’t stop their minds from wandering.

So, take time to daydream. Then no matter how wacky an idea sounds, write it down.

See what you can come up with in your daydreaming sessions.

#16 Exercise and break a sweat

Life can be stressful, no doubt!

I find exercise to be one of the surefire ways to conquer stress and clear your mind. For as long as I can remember, I’ve used exercise to reset my mind after stressful days.

I go under a heavy barbell and rep out the weight until I can’t lift anymore. The same endorphins that make you feel great, also help you focus better.

Then the better you can focus, the better you can flex your creative mind.

#17 Step outside of your comfort zone and take risks

golden gate bridge black and white
Golden Gate Bridge (Photo Credit: Angel Origgi)

You can’t stay within your comfort zone when it comes to creativity.

Because only proven work sits inside our comfort zone. In other words, work that already has a guide or template built for it.

So, take the risk and tackle a difficult problem that has no safety line. Test your creative limits.

Also, plunge into leadership roles with projects. Only then, will you be at the helm of a project having the final say on creative ideas.

It’ll definitely seem scary at first, but it’s a risk that has endless benefits.

#18 Find someone to lean on for emotional support

Tackling complex engineering problems can be stressful. No doubt!

Frankly, it can be draining to the point you want to pull out your hair. In these instances, call a friend.

Even better, call a friend who works in your field. Then spill out your frustrations and bounce your ideas off them.

You’ll get emotional support to refocus your mind. But also, you may get inspiration in how to solve your problem.

#19 Take a step outside of your circle of expertise

Sometimes inspiration comes from other industries. Or even, from something that’s off the wall.

For example, birds-inspired airplanes. I’m sure birdwatching inspired early humans to fly and build vehicles with wings.

More specifically, the eagle inspired the Airbus “Bird of Prey” airliner. The aircraft mimics an eagle’s wing and tail structure.

What’s more, was the inspiration from eagle feathers. It inspired the individually controlled aircraft feathers for active flight control.

So go speak with people in industries outside of yours. Learn from them. Pick their brains.

Or go nature watch, who knows, you may come up with the next amazing vehicle.

Again, you’re gathering more data to beef up your engineering creativity. The more data you gather, the more creative you’ll become.

#20 Take yourself out of the context of reality

I’m not saying to take mushrooms.

There are many other ways to pull yourself out of what we call “reality”.

I do this by immersing myself  in one of the following mediums:

  • Books
  • Video games
  • Movies
  • Music
  • Travel
  • The lens of a telescope or microscope

Taking yourself out of the context of your daily life will inspire you with more data. This data will then give your creative mind new tools to work with.

Conclusion

Becoming a creative genius won’t happen overnight.

Plus, the ceiling of creative minds differs from person to person. But, by utilizing these 20 tips, over time you’ll increase your engineering creativity.

In return, you’ll become a much better engineer.

What’s more, you’ll gain greater respect for your field of work. And, you’ll feel more fulfilled in life. That’s priceless!

What are your suggestions for improving engineering creativity? Do you think engineers can become more creative through certain actions?

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